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The Roads to the Rio+20 Earth Summit: Next Stop is New York

Jacob Scherr

Posted March 5, 2011

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It is Saturday evening and I am on the railroad from Washington, DC to New York.  For the next few days, I will be in meetings and consultations at and around the United Nations working on the accelerating preparations for the next Earth Summit - now rescheduled for June 4-6, 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  It will be the 20th anniversary of  first such gathering in Rio  where more than 100 Presidents and Prime Ministers committed to addressing climate change and other global challenges we face.

There are only 15 months for the global community to get ready for "Rio+20".  I am encouraged that more and more groups and individuals around the world are starting to see that the Earth Summit could be an important opportunity to stimulate real action on a transition to a green economy and on strengthening global governance for sustainability. In September 2009, our President Frances Beinecke along with 12 other environmental leaders wrote to President Obama about their expectations for the Summit.  These are still very relevant to the discussions this week.  They noted the President’s own words about the importance of this moment:

During your July 2008 visit to Berlin, you articulated the urgency of our global challenges.  We could not agree more that “this is the moment when we must come together to save this planet. Let us resolve that we will not leave our children a world where the oceans rise and famine spreads and terrible storms devastate our lands.”

On Sunday, I am participating in a workshop organized by the Stakeholders Forum on international environmental governance.  The Forum has commissioned a number of excellent pieces with some real innovative thinking. Traditional international structures and approaches have not been effective and fast enough; and there is a need to figure out new ways to encourage action at every level of society and then to hold governments and other actors accountable for their commitments.  It should be an interesting meeting.

On Monday morning, I will go over to the UN for the start of the Preparatory Committee meetings for Rio+20.  We are organizing an official side event on climate change and sustainable development in cooperation with the Global Coalition for Climate Action/ Tcktcktck, (Conference Room 6 at 1:15pm)  NRDC’s international climate policy director Jake Schmidt will be discussing how the Earth Summit could stimulate concrete actions by national governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change. 

The roads to Rio will go through Durban for the next round of climate negotiationsat the end of this year. We need to wait until after Durban to see if there are new agreements or issues which should be brought to the 2012 Summit - just as original framework convention on climate change was brought to the Presidents and Prime Ministers in Rio two decades ago. 

On Tuesday, NRDC will be cosponsoring a consultation with Canadian and American civil society groups on how we might best organize ourselves for Rio+20  The Canadian Earth Summit Coalition has already launched ‘WE CANADA’,  a web campaign to raise the profile of  sustainability in Canada and to encourage Canadian leadership at the Summit.

In the U.S., though there has been a few initial events and governmental consultations, we have yet to organize an effort to encourage broader American citizen participation in the Summit.  This session will be important as it should stimulate more cooperation among growing number and diversity of interested organizations on both sides of the border.  We need to also look for ways for engaging with our North American neighbor Mexico.  (My colleague Rich Kassel just blogged on opportunities for the US and Mexico to work together on cleaner vehicle and fuels.)

At the World Economic Forum in January, UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon issued a stern warning:  the 20th century economic model is a “global suicide pact.”  He called for revolutionary thinking and revolutionary action, closing with these words: 

In an odd way, what we are really talking about is going back to the future.  The ancients saw no division between themselves and the natural world.  They understood how to live in harmony with the world around them.  It is time to recover that sense of living harmoniously for our economies and our societies.

Not to go back to some imagined past, but to leap confidently into the future with cutting-edge technologies — the best science and entrepreneurship has to offer — to build a safer, cleaner, greener and more prosperous world for all.

There is no time to waste.

Over the next few days, we will get a better sense of all the roads that will lead to Rio in June 2012 and of ways we can work to put our world onto on a more sustainable path to the future as soon as possible.

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Sarah BurnsMar 5 2011 11:31 PM

Excellent introductory comments by Jacob Scherr of NRDC to the work that awaits us as we enter the countdown to Earth Summit in Rio in 2012. Let's heed UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon's stern warning: the 20th century economic model is a “global suicide pact.” Let's see the revolutionary thinking and revolutionary action!

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